A normal bowel movement passes steadily through your colon but, when you are constipated, your poop moves too slowly. As a result, constipation usually means that you pass stools less often and your stools can become hard, dry, and difficult to pass.

Occasional constipation is very common. In fact, 1 in 4 Canadians — from babies to seniors — have symptoms due to constipation, and it seems to affect twice as many women as men. Constipation can be caused by what you eat, how much you drink, and how active you are; in addition, increasing age, travel, pregnancy, illness, and medications can cause constipation.

Most of us will suffer from short-term constipation at some time in our lives but it generally improves rapidly without any long-term impact. On the other hand, chronic constipation does not generally improve on its own and it can have a huge impact on your physical, emotional, and social well-being. However, it is comforting to know that even chronic constipation can be successfully prevented or treated.

There are several things you can do to take control if your constipation does not settle promptly.

First, you can review your lifestyle and diet:

  • Exercising regularly?
  • Managing your stress level?
  • Drinking enough?
  • Eating enough fibre?
  • Keeping a regular daily schedule?

If you don’t find relief with changes in lifestyle and diet, you can talk to a pharmacist about specific treatment:

  • Laxatives
  • Bulking agents
  • Suppositories
  • Enemas

If none of these changes help and you are still struggling, it could mean that you have chronic constipation and it may be time to try a prescription medication.

Speak to your doctor if you have experienced two or more of the following symptoms for at least three months:

  • Straining during more than one out of four bowel movements
  • Hard stools during more than one out of four bowel movements
  • Fewer than three bowel movements in a week
  • A feeling that you have not completely emptied your bowels even when you do go

While making good choices about diet, exercise, and lifestyle will usually relieve occasional constipation, other approaches are needed for chronic constipation. You should not be afraid to speak to a pharmacist or doctor to find a solution.

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (CDHF) has many resources to help you understand, prevent, treat, and find relief from constipation. Visit CDHF.ca to learn more.